Among the sub-genres of horror, the slasher film may be one of the most static. We have seen it revived here and there – as Craven did using the dream landscape (“Nightmare on Elm Street”) in the ‘80s, and again with the slasher-sendup “Scream” series in the 90’s – but in the end, there’s only so much to be done with blades and bodies. It seems that writer/directors Keith Coulouris and David Schrader wanted to address this problem when they conceived and executed “Bloodline,” a micro-budget, direct-to-DVD feature with ambitions far greater than its merits.
“Bloodline” is a tale of two brothers: Travis (Clay Adams), a twenty-something member of the “in”-crowd, and the facially and emotionally scarred Henry (Josh Gibson), a mute sketch artist whom Travis keeps in close range. Travis brings his brother along on a camping trip, which turns ugly once bodies hit the ground and we’re trapped in a slasher-in-the-woods set-up. In a flash, the survivors learn that Henry (with quite the “Serial-Killer’s” name) has axed down Travis’ ex-girlfriend, Lori (a stunning Aya Sumika), and two others and has run off, leaving Travis returning home in grief, and Henry hiding in a hovel. There Henry finds Al (Jay Antony), who takes him in and becomes a hard-nosed but understanding mentor (and who looks quite similar to Otis, the ol’ chum in John McNaughton’s “Henry”). With this dual conflict, the filmmakers have created more problems than they can resolve.
At this point it feels like the murdering is finished, and that we’ve dipped into slasher convention to explore a family drama. But soon bodies begin to fall again, in scenes revealing way too much and thus sacrificing any real scares. Already confusing, this film further muddles itself with a transformation that can be compared to nothing less abrupt than Fred Madison’s midway through Lynch’s “Lost Highway”: the hardened, olive-skinned Bryan Smithson takes over the role of Henry from the pasty, doe-eyed Gibson. A gimmick that I assume should entice the viewer into a surreal narrative will end up confusing and frustrating horror fans, to whom this film is marketed. Even fans of the surreal will be frustrated with where this goes, as “Bloodline” never commits to a dreamlike sensibility but deploys it at its convenience.
Back beyond the woods, Travis becomes something like his brother’s keeper. After taking up with Lorraine (yes, Lynch fans: the counterpart of his ex, Lori – Cherish Hamutoff in a routine performance), who literally walks right into his life, he begins losing his hold on reality, obsessing over his brother’s murders and dealing with his ailing mother. The convincing Adams carries the film from here as a distraught young fella who just can’t handle what’s happening around him. Smithson, as the transformed but still murderous Henry, gets by with an intense performance, while the predecessor Henry – who annoyingly shows up again – remains detached. In a non-speaking role, I don’t expect Henry the 1st to match the brilliance of Jude Law in “Road to Perdition,” but Gibson has about 10% of Judith O’Dea’s Barbara (“Night of the Living Dead”) going for him.
This crew brings more Lynch allusions, including an effective flash sequence a la “Lost Highway’s” climax, and opening and closing maternal advice straight from “The Elephant Man’s” ascent to heaven. (And eventually, you’ll even stumble upon the yellow brick road!) It’s evident that the filmmakers went to the woods with a young Sam Raimi’s ambition, but short, choppy scenes and make-up effects revealed too closely (in Smithson’s case, looking like a quick putty job) detract from the subject of family bonds breaking down. Granted, any reconsideration of the slasher film deserves acknowledgment, but “Bloodline” remains too contrived and addled to transcend its genre.